- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 3, 2001


With the three appointments he announced yesterday, George W. Bush has now assembled a Cabinet that looks more like America in its diversity than any of President Clinton's Cabinets.

Although the incoming Bush administration is ideologically varied as the president-elect often promised on the campaign trail it would be it also more heavily weighted to the right than any Cabinet since President Reagan's.

"The Bush Cabinet is turning out to be more conservative than a lot of people thought it was going to be from John Ashcroft, Linda Chavez, Spencer Abraham to Tommy Thompson and Gale Norton," said Ron Utt, a senior economist and analyst at the Heritage Foundation.

"And it's more diverse than anything Clinton had, if you are going by the numbers on gender, race and ethnicity," Mr. Utt said.

In appointing two black men, one Asian-American man, four women (including a Hispanic), a Hispanic man and a Lebanese-American man, Mr. Bush has assembled a Cabinet that will have just five non-Hispanic white men, assuming all his nominees are approved by the Senate. But the differences are more than skin deep.

"I'd say from Chavez, Rumsfeld, Abraham and Ashcroft on the right to Mineta in the center and Christie Todd Whitman on the left, Bush has assembled something more ideologically diverse than Clinton ever dreamed of having," said American Conservative Union Chairman David A. Keene.

While the Clinton Cabinet has a liberal Republican Defense Secretary William S. Cohen Mr. Bush's Cabinet will include a Democrat who said yesterday he is "proud of and committed to my party's principles."

Norman Y. Mineta, nominated to head the Transportation Department and current commerce secretary, is an American of Japanese descent. He is said to look kindly on turning the government-run air-traffic-control system into a performance-based organization, if not necessarily privatizing it, as many free-market advocates in both parties would prefer.

"From the time he served as a congressman, Mineta has understood the need to invest in infrastructure, in highways and bridges, which are in disastrous shape across this country," said William Fay, president of the American Highway Users Alliance.

Privately, many transportation industry observers and political activists on the right feared Mr. Bush would appoint a devotee of federally subsidized railroads and were relieved by Mr. Mineta.

"He knows that 98 percent of all travel by Americans is on highways," Mr. Fay said.

Mr. Bush surprised many on both sides of the aisle by naming former civil rights commissioner Linda Chavez, a Hispanic Catholic, as labor secretary-nominee.

At first glance, she seems the one Bush appointment most like previous Cabinets in which people were chosen for sex or ethnicity.

In fact, Mrs. Chavez delighted most conservatives in that she does not have a vested interest in kowtowing to organized labor or advocates of racial preferences.

"Chavez has shown she is tough and has been instinctively skeptical about programs that give special preference to racial and ethnic groups entitlements and quotas instead of basing advancement on equal opportunity, fairness and merit," Mr. Utt said.

Ken Boehm, chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center, an ethics-watchdog group, was particularly pleased with the selection of Mrs. Chavez.

Mr. Boehm's group, which publishes a newsletter on corruption in union leadership, said such corruption has grown in recent years.

"Anybody who takes on that issue can expect to be reviled by unfair accusations, but she would not flinch from it her whole history in government and as an outside advocate shows that," he said.

He said he expects her to be the kind of strong labor secretary who would enforce the 1982 Supreme Court's Beck decision requiring union officials to have the written permission of each member before his compulsory union dues could be used for political purposes.

Mr. Bush's naming of Spencer Abraham, a Republican and Orthodox Christian of Lebanese descent, as energy secretary also pleases conservative reformers.

The biggest task of the new energy secretary will be to deal rationally with the 17 nuclear laboratories mainly no-longer-needed nuclear-bomb factories, conservative critics say that accounted for about $12 billion of the department's $17 billion budget.

The Energy Department was a creation of President Carter, who claimed the world would soon run out of gas and oil. But the new department also took the functions of the Atomic Energy Commission, and now the Energy Department mostly oversees nuclear-weapons facilities, Mr. Utt said.

In states like New Mexico, the facilities operate as local "pork."

Conservatives seem happy that Mr. Abraham has had little to do with the energy business and has no ties to interest groups involved in the department, unlike Clinton Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, who represented the New Mexico House district that had Los Alamos laboratory.

"Two-thirds of the Energy Department's budget has nothing to do with energy," Mr. Utt said. "So basically in Spence you have someone with no parochial or regional interest in these labs."

"The other good thing is that throughout his Senate career he has been interested in dismantling and restructuring and doing that to the Department of Energy has always been on everyone's favorite to-do list, but the labs and their defenders don't want to give up the gravy train," he said.

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